Fish Head Stew – Economy Recipe
There are so many reasons why I include this recipe for Fish Head Stew, even though I realise that the title alone may make some readers recoil in horror. Stick with me though, and I’ll explain why Fish Head Stew, and the right kind of Economy Recipes are a good thing, whatever your budget.
First of all, though, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not asking you to go rootling around in bins for rotten old bits of fish that the cat wouldn’t look at. We are going to use very fresh, perfectly good fish here; just some of the bits that would often be cut away and discarded.
Although the main thrust of The Guerilla Griller has always been to encourage new, inexperienced and nervous cooks into the kitchen, my secondary agenda is that good food need not, in fact most often should not, be expensive.
This recipe is indeed all about buying (or saving, or reusing, or begging) the good cuts or bits of the fish (and the beast and the veg patch for that matter) that do not achieve premium prices at the market, but are none the worse for that – we are looking for the undiscovered gems, if you like; the perfectly good ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away, or at least sold very cheaply.
This recipe for Fish Head Stew works, and is delicious if you follow the ingredient list and method, but that’s not really the point. By all means go to the fishmonger, or a fisherman friend if you have one, and see if they have a Conger head and tail, as I did. If not, see if they have any other suitable large fish heads, or ask them to save them for you when next they are filleting or cutting steaks. Or buy a nice whole fish or two for another recipe and keep the head(s) and tail(s) for this one.
And, forgive me for banging the drum one more time: it’s not even necessarily a fish recipe. Use the same principles for anything else that may either be sold very cheaply or even thrown away but that with the right cooking could give you a good meal.
I used Conger Eel here, but you could use other large, meaty fish, preferably cut so there is a good “collar” or “shoulder” of meat. As I know some of you will live in parts of the world where “large” could mean you couldn’t fit it into your car to get it home, let alone fit it into your pot, as a rough guide, I’m talking a head and neck around the size of a man’s clenched fist and wrist. Rather than list species, any off-cut with a decent amount of meat left on will do – but do make sure to descale the fish if necessary. As I have no idea what you’re going to use, timings are of course approximate.
The recipe feeds two, but multiply/adapt to your needs, and the size of the fish heads you have found. There is not much meat (if any) on the part of the Conger tail that is usually off-cut, but it will add flavour to the stewing juices as they develop.
Fish Head Stew recipe: Ingredients
One or two Conger Eel Head(s) and Tail(s)
Two or three medium carrots, peeled and sliced into chunky rounds
One medium leek, cleaned and cut into rounds as carrots, discarding the toughest part of the green end
Four plump cloves of garlic, peeled but otherwise whole
Enough hot stock to cover the veg (fresh veg or fish stock if you can, but a dissolved cube or bouillon powder will do if that’s all you have)
A pinch or two of mixed dried herbs or fresh herbs of your choice
A small splash (about a tablespoon) of oil
Plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fish Head Stew recipe: Method
Heat the oil in a large pot and fry the prepared veg for a few minutes until they begin to take on a little colour, adding the garlic last so it doesn’t burn. Add the stock, bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the herbs, and stir well. Place the fish head(s) and tail(s) onto the veg and cover the pan with a lid. After ten minutes, turn the fish upside down. The fish and the vegetables should be ready in another ten minutes.
Double-check that the flesh is cooked right through: if not, cook for a little longer.
When the fish is ready, you have the choice to plonk the head on the plate, surrounded by the veg and its juices, and hack away at it at the table with your knife and fork, which will be very primally satisfying, if a little messy. You can be a little more refined and carve away the meat from the head on your chopping board. Check all round the head for meaty bits; some fish have really worthwhile “cheeks” and other pockets of flesh that you don’t want to miss.